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Cell Host Microbe. 2012 Oct 18;12(4):558-70. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2012.08.010.

Short-range exosomal transfer of viral RNA from infected cells to plasmacytoid dendritic cells triggers innate immunity.

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Department of Immunology and Microbial Science, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


Viral nucleic acids often trigger an innate immune response in infected cells. Many viruses, including hepatitis C virus (HCV), have evolved mechanisms to evade intracellular recognition. Nevertheless, HCV-permissive cells can trigger a viral RNA-, TLR7-, and cell-contact-dependent compensatory interferon response in nonpermissive plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs). Here we report that these events are mediated by transfer of HCV-RNA-containing exosomes from infected cells to pDCs. The exosomal viral RNA transfer is dependent on the endosomal sorting complex required for transport (ESCRT) machinery and on Annexin A2, an RNA-binding protein involved in membrane vesicle trafficking, and is suppressed by exosome release inhibitors. Further, purified concentrated HCV-RNA-containing exosomes are sufficient to activate pDCs. Thus, vesicular sequestration and exosomal export of viral RNA may serve both as a viral strategy to evade pathogen sensing within infected cells and as a host strategy to induce an unopposed innate response in replication-nonpermissive bystander cells.

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